As GM’s performance division, Pontiac certainly went out with a bang at the end of 2009. While never the flashiest thing on the road – the range-topping Pontiac G8 GXP was a super sedan with a 6.2-liter LS3 engine driving the rear wheels. The LS3 was enough to push the G8 (based on an Australian Holden platform) towards 180 mph, and with an optional 6-speed manual gearbox it could reel off 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds. The quarter-mile came in 13 seconds at 105 mph. Even after Pontiac was dead the concept came back to life as the Chevrolet SS sedan built between 2014-2017.
The link between these modern Pontiac performance models and GM’s Australian subsidiary Holden goes back to the early 2000s when Bob Lutz was seeking more exciting vehicles in GM’s worldwide markets. He was impressed by a road test of the Holden Commodore SS sedan, which had a Monaro coupe counterpart. Lutz thought the coupe could be the next Pontiac GTO.
Lutz aimed for a 2001 launch, but it didn’t happen until 2004. Meanwhile, changes in currency values had bumped the price from $25,000 to $34,000. The public was lukewarm to the styling, then dealers added markups. GM hoped for 18,000 sales a year, but 2004 produced 13,569, 2005 delivered 11,069 and 2006 totaled 13,948 for a total of 40,808 vehicles, at which point the GTO was canceled.
Meanwhile, in Australia a new Holden Commodore VE model was introduced, built on GM’s Zeta platform. The rear-drive sedan was Australian-designed and powered by a 6.0-liter LS2 V-8 engine, with four-wheel independent suspension and either a 6-speed automatic or manual transmission. Holden’s HSV division developed high-performance models and the Commodore was sold as a Sportwagon, a Ute (pickup), and a Monaro Coupe.
Mark Reuss became Chairman of Holden in 2008 and was head of GM’s performance division before that. Reuss and Lutz were keen to import the Commodore SS to fill the high-performance sedan slot and both believed that Pontiac was the correct brand. Three levels of Commodore sedan were badged as the Pontiac G8, G8 GT and G8 GXP.
The 2008 Pontiac G8 was the first rear-wheel drive Pontiac sedan since the 1986 Bonneville. The base G8 was powered by a 3.6-liter, 256-hp V-6 with a 5-speed automatic transmission. The real performance started with the Pontiac G8 GT, which featured a 361-hp, 6.0-liter V-8 with 6-speed automatic transmission. It was good for 0-60 mph in 5.2 seconds and could manage a quarter-mile in 13.4 seconds at around 103 mph. The 2009 model year saw deletion of the central oil and voltage gauges, while new catalytic converters cut power to 355hp. The GT also had clear taillights, dual climate controls, and 11-speaker Blaupunkt CD stereo. A sports package added larger 19-inch wheels and a smaller steering wheel. MSRP for the G8 was $25,595 and for the G8 GT $29,995.
The top-level Pontiac G8 GXP model was launched at the 2008 New York Auto Show and featured the Corvette’s 415-hp, 6.2-liter LS3 V-8 with either a 6-speed Tremec manual gearbox or 6-speed automatic transmission. 0-60 mph came in 4.5 seconds and a quarter-mile accomplished in 13 seconds at 109.6 mph, impressive stuff for a hefty four-door. The GXP also received the Nurburgring-tuned FE3 suspension and bigger Brembo brakes. MSRP for the Pontiac G8 GXP was $37,610.
But the G8’s launch couldn’t have come at a worse time. The crash of 2008 drove GM into bankruptcy and Pontiac ceased production after 2009. Ultimately, just under 37,000 Pontiac G8s were sold with only 1829 of them being GXPs. In Mid-2009 GM had about 5000 unsold G8s and new cars were changing hands as much a $5000 under MSRP.
Bob Lutz continued to be optimistic and promised a Chevrolet Caprice PPV (Police Patrol Vehicle) based on the G8. Eventually Chevrolet did produce a new Chevrolet SS sedan for 2014, based on the latest Holden Commodore VF model. Equipped at the same level as the GXP, the SS was built until 2017 and a total of 12,906 units were sold between 2013-2018. Roughly one third had 6-speed manual gearboxes.